Vuelta a España (st. 14)
Spaniard keeps trying towards Fuente del Chivo, 3rd into breakaway; Colombian feels recovered, puts 6" into favourites' group to get back to overall top-ten
Courage marked the Movistar Team's return to the mountains in the start of a grueling trio of hilltop finishes in the Vuelta a España, with stage 14 covering 215km from Vitoria to the Fuente del Chivo in Cantabria. While José Joaquín Rojas (3rd) featured all day into a five-man breakaway from which Alessandro de Marchi (BMC) attacked to claim the day's honours, Nairo Quintana, well protected for many days by the Movistar Team, showed again its true colours by leaving all GC favourites behind across the finish.
The pace into the climb by Movistar Team's Amador, Ventoso and Moreno was seconded by Astana's Mikel Landa, followed by a strong attack by race leader Fabio Aru. That circumstance served as launchpad for the Colombian, who rode away from the field during the last 2km before trying it again, solo, to finish 6th in the stage and 7" ahead of the red jersey. Quintana now sits in 7th overall, exactly 3' down on the lead, while Valverde, who struggled and conceded almost half a minute on his team-mate, now ranks in 7th, 2'11" back. Round two of mountains will come on Sunday, with stage fifteen (175km) ending atop the 12.7km, 8% average gradient Sotres (Cat-1).
José Joaquín Rojas: “it wasn't that 'special' day for me, as slopes were too steep, but I dug deep until the very end for my team, Eusebio, the team-mates. They gave me confidence and freedom to go after my chances but it wasn't to be, because De Marchi was way stronger. Still, I have no doubts that I will try again.
"My real characteristic is fighting spirit. Many people are always trying to rate my performance by what I do as a sprinter, but I always said I'm an allrounder, able to fight in every terrain and also work hard for the team leaders, and that's what I tried to do in this Vuelta: helping out Nairo and Alejandro, as well as profiting from those chances to chase stage wins.
"Nairo had spent many days struggling before Andorra, but we were silent so rivals didn't take advantage from that. He was feeling really better during breakfast and has shown to be more than recovered on the climb. Let's hope the best for Movistar is yet to come in this Vuelta."
Nairo Quintana: “I really suffered during the last few days, but it seems like my body has started responding better again. I'm not completely recovered yet, since I'm feeling much pain in my stomach – it still doesn't work as it should do – but I felt really better today, with stronger legs. I hope I can still be up for the podium fight; there are many stages left to make up some terrain, days we should take advantage from if I find the same legs I had to do. It's still possible to recover in this Vuelta.”
Alejandro Valverde: "This wasn't a really demanding climb, but after such a long stage, with fourteen days of racing on our legs… some gaps were bound to happen, though they were rather short. Astana put on a big pace and I was left a bit behind, but the good thing was that Nairo could make up some time and there are two really demanding days ahead, where anything could happen. He's recovering really well and days suited for him are still to come. Regarding myself, I just hope to be better in Sotres and Alba; the shoulder is working well, it still hurts a bit, but it's no trouble for my performance.”